Pub Talk: ‘Europe is all important. Lose against Leverkusen and our season could implode…’

Mohammed Kudus (WHU) celebrates scoring the first West Ham goal (1-1) at the Brentford v West Ham United EPL match, at The G-Tech Stadium, Brentford, London, UK on 4th November, 2023.

We beat Everton, saw off Freiburg in the Europa League, but drew against Burnley and Villa and lost away at Newcastle; How do you sum up March for West Ham?

David Meagher: We have steadied the ship after the awful Arsenal game but we have let too many points slip in games we could have won to expect a top six finish and our run-in is tricky. Paqueta’s return has been key as he maintains our attack-defence balance and his passing precision keeps opposition defences on guard, and a little deeper. A Europa League final in which we avenge the 2006 Cup final by beating Liverpool in Dublin has always been the dream, so beating Frieberg was the key result.

Meirion Williams: Pretty predictable in all honesty. I predicted that we would come away with six points and concentrate on Europe. I was one point out of a pretty good prediction from yours truly. It’s the West Ham Way that we end up with one of the toughest European draws to date with a game against the unbeaten future German League winners.

David Blackmore: Frustrating, but my frustrations are also not necessarily completely aimed at Moyes or the players. It felt like a month where we may look back with regret come the end of the season. The Everton victory was sweet, especially winning it so late on, and the Freiburg home leg is up there with one of my favourite ever West Ham games. The Burnley and Villa results were disappointing. A victory up at Newcastle was in our hands until the second penalty gave the Toon Army a lifeline and momentum. Then it felt like only a matter of time before they levelled the game and looked to go on to win it.

What did you make of those VAR decisions against us in the games against Freiburg, Burnley, Villa and Newcastle? 

DM: VAR has been unkind, but the Sheffield United decisions are the worst yet and I think will also cost us as Man United are on a better run of form right now. I think the Villa call was correct, it was a handball, but took way too long to clarify. The other decisions were all harsh on us. 

MW: Swings and roundabouts but I do find it really annoying that so many VAR checks end up with the wrong decision being made. I’m in agreement with David in that the Sheffield United decision was far worse than any of those other ones.

DB: I’m still smarting about the Newcastle penalty decisions, I guess because they are the most recent ones. The first penalty, Gordon was offside. End of. The second penalty should not have been given. The ref had a clear view so it wasn’t a clear and obvious error. Also, what about the barge on Kudus by Dan Burn? Our man was clearly going to win that foot battle and as last man, Burn should’ve been given his marching orders. The Burnley and Freiburg handballs, again, still defy my logic.

What do you think are our chances against Leverkusen in the Europa League? Is this the end of the road for us?

DM: I think that Leverkusen will be anxious against us as we are an experienced European outfit now. More importantly, Qarabag demonstrated their vulnerability to counterattack of the Moyesball variety. If we can keep the tie alive for the second leg at the London Stadium anything can happen. 

MW: This has to be the toughest draw of them all. Yes Liverpool would have been tough but I believe we could have beaten them. Leverkusen have been outstanding this season and are yet to lose in the German League. Again I agree with David that the away leg holds the key. If we can keep the tie alive, we have a chance at home but I fear keeping it alive is a draw or a win, even a small deficit, may be too much to overcome. 

DB: I was so fixated about us not getting drawn against Liverpool that I feel like I took my eye off the ball with praying that we didn’t get Leverkusen either. But it is what it is. I agree with David though that Qarabag showed what can be done against Leverkusen and this will give Moyes, his staff and the players confidence of causing an upset. And as Meirion says, we simply must go to their place and get something. A 1-0 defeat isn’t the end of the world but ideally I’d want us to get a draw. Then we can look to counter at home, roared on by our fans.

We’ve got Fulham, Palace, Liverpool, Chelsea, Luton & Man City as our run-in. How do you think we’ll do and where do you think this’ll leave us in the league?

DM: Sorry to say that I think we will slide out to 8th or 9th. That said, I really like the Bowen-Kudus-Antonio- Paqueta combination in attack and feel we can create chances against any side with those four in the side. The Europa League distraction is another factor.

MW: Europe is all important. Win and we will concentrate on that, but lose and our heads could go down and we could implode. I predict six points. Liverpool will be chasing the title and I’ve been in Manchester twice before to see the League trophy being lifted. I predict I may see it a third time.

DB: At the start of the season, I was targeting the Fulham, Palace and Luton games as being seven or nine points and writing us off against Liverpool and City. Now though, I think Fulham, after hammering us 5-0 earlier this season, will fancy their chances of securing a double, and Palace seem a different outfit to the Hogdson side we huffed and puffed against. Luton as well seem to have turned things around. But as David says, if that front four is fit and firing, we should fancy our chances of getting something against all these sides.

Who do you think will win the league, get relegated from the Premier League and get promoted from the Championship?

DM: The Premier League title race is really exciting this year. Arsenal deserve it in my view and personally I would like to see Declan Rice have success as he is a top lad. I think he is the missing backbone to their side and that with him they won’t fade as they have done before. That said, it’ll be nip and tuck to the end. I think Burnley and the tragic Blades simply don’t score enough goals to stay up. I dream of Everton joining them in the Championship but they’ll probably survive. I think Luton have been plucky and deserve to stay up, but Forest’s squad depth will prevail and the Hatters will slip down. As for the Championship, I think Leeds and Leicester are Premier League clubs. The rest is the usual fabulous play off lottery.

MW: For me, it’s City all the way. I personally don’t want Declan to win anything at Arsenal. At the other end it has to be Luton, Sheffield United and Burnley going down. I believe they just don’t have enough depth on the squad. With Leicester possibly losing points, it’s now Leeds to lose. I also can see Ipswich taking that second automatic spot depriving their fans of a play off game against Norwich.

DB: In a three-horse title race, I’m going to suggest it may be Liverpool who emerge as winners. It’s Klopp’s final season, they’ve coped really well with the injuries they’ve endured and I don’t think they can be written off just yet. As I write, we’ve had 29 games played and Liverpool lead by two points. Their game against United will be key to their chances. I think Sheffield United and Burnley are destined to drop down. Then I think it’s tough to call between Luton, Forest and Everton, especially if the latter gets more points deducted. As for the Championship, I’d like to see Leeds and Leicester with an Ipswich/Norwich playoff final.

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